I don't know which is worse:
- that we've created such fear in parents that they can never do ANYTHING without feeling like they're putting their child at risk
- that we blame parents whenever anything goes wrong; imagining that all tragedy is preventable
- that we blame parents for raising "sissies" and children who don't know how to take a risk and end up moving into their parents basement at 24 because they can't handle independence - financial or otherwise.
But I'm in the minority on that one. Most people's knee-jerk reaction is "I pushed my mother's car all the time as a teenager. Are you telling me 20 teenagers can't push a bus?"
And then they blame the parents. We do horrible things, you know, protecting our children. Well, except when we're doing horrible things by not protecting them.
So was this woman's* compaint a sane and proper safety concern or was it the product of cultural conditioning to expect the worst? You decide:
Once there was a young woman who desperately wanted a baby. She started taking folic acid – to prevent Spina Bifida – and quit drinking alcohol – because she didn’t want to accidentally drink when she was pregnant but didn’t know yet. Just to be safe, and because she’d heard it was dangerous, she gave up coffee and tea too. Her mother laughed a little at that one, but when she saw a study that showed that caffeine intake could affect miscarriage risk, she knew she was right.
She was pleased to discover she was pregnant a short while later. Her husband took over anything related to the cat – toxoplasmosis could cause birth defects. On New Year’s Eve she enviously eyed everyone’s champagne glasses. Her husband told her one sip wouldn’t hurt. But she said no. The next week, she saw a pregnant celebrity being bashed in the magazines for sipping a glass of champagne at a party. She knew she had made the right choice.
The baby arrived, perfect in every way. She put him to sleep each night in his crib, despite wanting to snuggle with him and nurse him in her own bed. When she read that some municipalities in the United States were considering making co-sleeping illegal because of the risk of death for the infant, she knew she had made the right choice. She put her infant to sleep on his back each night; though her grandmother told her sleeping on his stomach would ease his colic. But everyone knows that back sleeping prevents SIDS.
She bought two car seats, one installed in her own car and an extra in case he ever needed to be transported when she wasn’t available. You can never be too careful. She put covers on all the electrical sockets and modified her stairway entrance so she could add a gate. The cat got relegated to the garage when it refused to keep its food up high.
One day, she had to fill the car with gas. He was in the backseat, asleep in his carseat, sick with croup. It was raining. She lifted him from the car seat, wrapped her own coat around him, and went in to pay. When her husband found out he was angry. But she was validated when the next week the news featured the story of a woman in the same circumstance who had been arrested for leaving her child unattended in the car.
Her son grew older. She sent him off to school with his BPA free lunchbag with an icepack to keep his food cold so he wouldn’t get salmonella. She taught him about strangers and that his private parts were his alone. She gave him a cell phone so he could get a hold of her in any emergency.
When he was six and wanted to go sledding in the backyard, she made sure he put on a helmet. When he was eight and asked if he could walk to the corner store by himself, she said no. Everyone knows a child isn’t safe on the streets by himself. When he was eleven and asked if he could finally stop having a babysitter after school, she said no. She agreed he was mature and responsible enough to take care of himself, but the law says children under 12 years old must be supervised.
When he was fifteen and a friend invited him to his older brother’s party, she said no. She knew the parents wouldn’t be home and that there may well be drinking. He was angry with her, but she wouldn’t budge. It just wasn’t safe. Everyone agreed with her.
She talked to him about sex and particularly safe-sex. She talked to him about smoking and told him of the risks. She spoke to him of alcohol and reminded him that he wasn’t old enough to drink. She told him stories of teens who had died or been injured using drugs. She asked him to please just try to stay safe. All she wanted was for him to stay safe.
One snowy day she picked him up after school. Although he normally walked, the roads were slick with ice and there was no clearance for pedestrians. She knew it would be safest to drive him home herself. As she pulled into the parking lot, she saw a number of his friends pushing a school bus that had gotten stuck into a snow drift. It made no sense to her that these children would stand behind such a large vehicle, in the way of traffic, pushing it. She reported what she saw. All she wanted was to make sure that other people’s children were safe too.
The bus driver was suspended for asking the children to push the bus. And suddenly, everyone accused her and other parents of coddling their children. People called in to radio shows to say that teens should be allowed to push vehicles; that suspending the driver went too far; that parents who complained of this incident were being over-protective.
She doesn’t know where she went wrong. From before the day she became pregnant all she has heard, seen, or read, has been about how to keep her child safe. She has seen parents – well-meaning, good parents – charged or investigated for doing things society deemed was not safe. She has seen parents hung out to dry for letting their child walk alone to the store or trusting their teen to have an unsupervised party. She did what was expected, what felt right after all these years of doing the right and safe thing, and now she is being hung out to dry.
When was she supposed to stop trying to keep her child safe?
*Note: that story is not meant to represent a real person; but I think it could represent all of us.